The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Rusack, Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles and an early supporter of the ordination of women and civil rights for homosexuals, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack. He was 60.
Rusack collapsed at his Pacific Palisades home at 7 p.m. and died a short time later at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, said Peter Mann, administrator of the 3-million-member diocese, which covers six Southern California counties.
"He has been bishop while the diocese has become completely diversified ethnically," Mann said. "We also had a very large mission campaign, with the money to be used for programs instead of buildings."
Rusack had been scheduled to appear at a press conference Monday with Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony and Rabbi Allen Freehling, president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, to announce the formation of the AIDS Interfaith Council of Southern California.
He was unable to appear, however, because of illness. But an excerpt from a speech he had given at the diocese's 90th convention last December was distributed.
"Gay people must hear through the words and deeds of the church that they, too, are children of God," Rusack said.
"AIDS may turn out to be a momentary passing epidemic, or it may be a plague. At this moment, no one knows the final outcome. It must not, however, become an excuse to unleash another wave of irrational hostility on the gay population of our world."
Shortly after his installation in January, 1974, Rusack announced that he wanted "to turn the Los Angeles world upside down, as did the Holy Apostles, and start by zeroing in on people, to win souls to Christ."
He was a strong advocate of the ordination of women, an issue that deeply divided his own church. After female ordination was adopted in 1976, dissident priests separated from the church over the issue.
Rusack also opposed U.S. military aid to El Salvador and urged that Salvadoran refugees be granted political asylum in this country. He also initiated a program in the diocese to welcome the influx of Asian immigrants to Southern California.
"We have for decades sent missionaries overseas to Asia," he said. "Now, the Lord has sent significant new numbers of Asians to live here among us."
A new bishop will be elected by clergy and congregational delegates from throughout the diocese, in a process probably taking several months, Rev. George Regas of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena said Wednesday. The diocese's ranking clergyman, Suffragan Bishop Oliver Garber, will be head of the diocese until then.
Rusack is survived by his wife, Janice, and two children, Geoffrey, of Santa Monica, and Rebecca Waycott, of Caracas, Venezuela.